Penguin love triangle is all the talk


The blogosphere has been buzzing for days over the perky widow who stole the handsome gay guy from his longtime partner.

She’s been called a “home wrecker” and the sobriquet that rhymes with witch, and lambasted as a wretch “who only lives for her own happiness, no matter who gets hurt.”

Cherchez la femme notwithstanding, the saga of Linda and Harry and poor, cuckolded Pepper has ignited a fierce debate about whether homosexuality is a choice. Even People magazine has called for details.


So it goes on Penguin Island at the San Francisco Zoo, where the news recently broke that Harry ditched Pepper, his male burrowmate of six years, leaving zookeepers scrambling to explain what one described as “the big philosophical issues.”

The love triangle has spurred a “nature-versus-nurture debate about whether animals or people are hard-wired to be heterosexual or homosexual,” said Harrison Edell, curator of birds. “There are people who are trying to draw conclusions from our birds, and I’m not really sure whether that can be done.”

One recent zoo guest posed the other big question about the avian antics: “Is this something that only happens in San Francisco?”

The answer to that one, thank goodness, is a lot simpler: No. At New York City’s Central Park Zoo a few years back, Silo left Roy for Scrappy, a California girl who joined them via Sea World.

The East Coast’s unhappy threesome are chinstrap penguins, the West’s are magellanics. Aside from that, the saga’s pretty much the same: Boy meets boy. Boy loses boy. Girl takes blame. Talking heads take notice.

Christian website OneNews quoted a “pro-family advocate” on Thursday who parsed the Harry-Pepper split as proof that “nature prefers heterosexual relationships.”


Matt Barber, director of cultural affairs with the conservative Liberty Counsel, took a more tongue-in-cheek approach in a column on Town that ended with a veiled comparison of Pepper and former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, who was arrested for homosexual lewd conduct in an airport bathroom.

“In recent days he has reportedly been spotted waddling around the zoo’s public men’s room, skulking in stalls and inexplicably tapping his flipper. There’s even speculation that, as things continue to spiral, he may consider a run for public office.”

Other commentators were more sympathetic to Pepper. John wrote on a blog called “The Friggin Loon” that he is “heartbroken” for the lovelorn loser and “hopes that he finds another male penguin that is ten times hotter than Harry!”

The blog floated another possibility: “Maybe,” the writer posited, “Harry is actually bi?”

In their six years together, Pepper and Harry were foster fathers to a couple of abandoned eggs and hatched a chick named Norris.

They lived near Linda and her partner Fig, a kind of Penguin Island older statesman who controlled “not one but two burrows,” said Edell, the bird curator. Fig died in January, and Linda kept them both.


“For penguins, real estate means a lot,” Edell noted, so “as far as penguins go, she was a pretty attractive prospect.”

Harry started hanging around. Then he moved in. Linda laid two fertile eggs. Pepper was left living the bachelor’s life, along with seven other lonely guys on Penguin Island.

Some have argued that Harry and Pepper hooked up because of supply and demand. And the truth is that there aren’t enough females on the island -- 21 for the 29 males.

But if that were the only factor, Edell said, there would have been four same-sex pairings instead of just Harry and Pepper. Today, there are none.

“We’ll be really interested in the next year or two to see if Pepper pairs up again, and with whom,” Edell said. “Give me a call in March.”